Mary Farsaci (36) mother to Owen (8), and twins Darcy and Erin (3.5)
Photographed in Portland, ME
Mary shares -
"I have not experienced the loss of a child or a pregnancy but when my son was almost three, a week before his dad and I got married, I found a lump in my breast and was diagnosed with cancer. My husband and I had planned to start trying for another baby after the wedding. Instead, I underwent a unilateral mastectomy and began tamoxifen, a medication that would decrease my risk of cancer recurrence in the long term, but is not compatible with pregnancy or nursing. While not directly related to pregnancy, breast cancer has been a huge part of my journey as a mother, and a huge part of my relationship with my body during these childbearing years. For months after my mastectomy, I mourned the loss of my breast, loss of symmetry, loss of wholeness, and loss of the hypothetical child I had hoped to be nurturing at that point. Six months after the mastectomy, I decided to go off of my medication and move ahead with growing our family. 19 weeks into my second pregnancy, I learned that I was carrying two baby girls!
Like so many girls and women, I suffered from disordered eating and a complicated relationship with my body through my teens and into my twenties. For me, my first pregnancy at age 27 was a liberation. For the first time in years, food was not an issue. I'm not sure how this happened, but I am forever grateful that it did. I tried to eat well, but did not worry about restricting what I ate or indulging my sweet tooth.
I really didn't like being pregnant at all, and ranged from uncomfortable to miserable on any given day or night, but for once my woes were not related to my perception of how my body looked. In the months that followed the birth of my son, the pregnancy weight melted off, and then some. Even so, I certainly did not feel like myself. Owen only wanted to sleep on me, and to be held constantly. My ass -- one of my fuller features -- had gone flat. Usually small-chested, I hardly knew what to do with the over-producing melons that my breasts had turned into. My doctor put me on a long list of dietary restrictions to see if it would calm Owen's stomach when, in hindsight, he was probably just getting too much milk.
I went back to work full-time, and finding time and energy to exercise, something that had previously been a huge part of my identity, was a challenge. I felt exhaustion like I had never felt before. When Owen was two, I ran a half-marathon, the first road race I had run since before my pregnancy. This was definitely a postpartum turning point for me. My food issues remained largely resolved, I was done nursing, and I felt strong again. Unfortunately, my cancer diagnosis came nine months later.
Giving birth to two beautiful, healthy girls a year and a half after breast cancer is a greater blessing than I could have hoped for. Even so, that pregnancy itself is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done. During the first trimester, I was floored by fatigue, chronic nausea, and daily vomiting. Shortly after week 15 or so when I could eat again, I really began to "pop." By 20 weeks I was large and uncomfortable, by 25 weeks strangers were asking me if I was due any day, and by 28 weeks I took medical leave from my full time teaching job. I was anemic and huge and exhausted, and could not stand up and teach without getting short of breath. By 8 or 9 each morning, I could feel my upper abdominal muscles ripping apart, and the only way ease the pain was to lie down. Which I did. A lot. The mastectomy followed by the twin pregnancy took a huge toll on my body and spirit but, at the same time, gave me an understanding of my own strength. I began to view myself as tough, both mentally and physically, and took pride in my awesome (in the true sense of the word) body. My body was capable of healing quickly from surgery. My body was capable of growing and housing two babies inside of it at once. If I can do that, I can do just about anything.
I would describe my postpartum experience with my son as positive, but intense and all-consuming. I was completely in love with him. I held him constantly. I had to work hard to be sure that I showered and left the house each day. If my sister had not been there cooking meals, I don't know what I would have eaten those first weeks. It was strange to now know all the answers to the little problems that would arise, which sometimes caused more than a little anxiety. Looking back, maybe he was a needy baby, or maybe I was overly attentive to every need. I'll never really know! Likely, some of both.
The postpartum experience with my girls was totally different than the first time around. Their birth was triumphant for me; Against the odds, I birthed them into my own hands, squatting on all fours on a hospital gurney in the middle of a brightly lit OR, surrounded by a dozen strangers in scrubs and masks. However, my water had broken prematurely, just shy of 35 weeks, so the girls were taken from me as soon as they were born. My stage three labor was rough, involving retained placenta, hemorrhaging, and a whole lot of other bodily fluids. The girls spent 4 days in the NICU, then an additional week in the nursery of our local hospital, gaining weight and learning to feed. The days in the hospital were hard; sitting with my girls for 12 hours a day, doing all I could to speed up the process and bring them home, but mostly just waiting, not knowing when that time would come; going home at night to shower, see my boy (4 years old at the time), sleep, and pump.
Despite the rocky start, once I had my girls home with me, the postpartum months actually seemed quite a bit easier than they had with their brother. For starters, I no longer had two humans inside of me, and I felt like a million bucks! I could walk! I could stand! I could reach the kitchen sink to wash dishes! Being premature, the girls were pretty sleepy for the first couple of months, and spent a lot of time sleeping on their own--NOT in my lap as their brother had. Such freedom was so foreign to me! I pumped around the clock on my hospital grade breast pump, extracting as much milk as I could from my one lactating breast, but this gave us the flexibility to bottle feed, giving Dad something that he could help out with. Also, the mothering thing was not new this time. I knew how to swaddle. I knew how to burp a baby. I knew how to hook my boobs up to weird machines. I knew that sometimes a baby had to cry for a couple of minutes while I tended to her sister, and that she would BE OK. Mostly, I think that the four years of life I had lived since my son was born had mellowed me. I had a greater confidence in my own abilities, but I also knew that I did not have to do it all alone.
My truths: motherhood is the best thing ever, and it is really fucking hard. Find your village--we cannot do this in isolation. After becoming a mother, you will change forever, inside and out. You will not go "back" to your former self. (So talk of getting your pre-baby body back is nonsense.) It is OK to mourn the loss of certain parts of yourself, but also know that you are still you, and you will evolve forward into a stronger, wiser, deeper version of yourself. I would tell my former self and any new parent that you are beautiful always, you are stronger than you could ever imagine, and you are doing a great job.
I was first attracted to this project as a lover of photography, and as a strong believer in the idea of celebrating the beauty and strength of mothers of all shapes, sizes, and journeys. The deeper I go into understanding the project, the more I love it! As a mother and a postpartum doula, it is so important to me to honor the changes that women go through as they become moms--changes on the physical level, as well as the emotional level; changes to their lifestyle and changes to their sense of self. I also think there is a primal need to share one's story with others who will truly listen, as a way to process that story, whether it is happy or sad or some of both. I applaud you for providing a way for women to share their stories, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for hearing mine."